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Design for an alder stand

 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Hi Permies,



I'm looking for ideas on how to work with alder stands.


I live in coastal British Columbia, and alders are part of a typical succession after forests are logged. I understand they fix nitrogen and prepare the ground for the upcoming douglas firs/cedars and a bit of pine trees.


I'm designing the 10-15 acre property I live on and it happens to have a small patch of alders. Not sure of the exact size, but it takes less than 5 minutes to walk through.

The alders have an understory of solal and (mostly) fern. One function they perform is provide a few wheelbarrows of leaves for the garden every year.


I'm looking for suggestions on how to design this alder patch:



Ideas:

1) Leave it alone, let succession happen over the years.

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2) Figure out how to speed up succession. Now how would I do that?

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3) Chop it all down and turn it into a pasture for goats. This is an idea that's been thrown around, but I personally feel uneasy about it. Seems potentially destructive?

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4) Take control of the succession and plant stuff that will provide interesting outputs for humans or chickens or the garden. Is that possible? Any ideas?

Now the douglas fir that would grow naturally would provide wood, but I think we could do better than that?

The alder patch wouldn't have full sun exposure if removed as there's more trees to the south side.

Would it be possible to choose what will come after the alders? What species could work? How would I proceed?

Could I e.g. grow forage for chickens? Or some fruit trees? Or some coppiced source of firewood?

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Thanks!


PS This is specific to this property, but also I'd like to know how to deal with alder stands in general, as this is such a common situation around here. There's a large property close by that's been logged kinda savagely maybe 4-5 years ago and it's now full of alders.




Some old thread about alders: http://www.permies.com/t/5978/woodland/alder-Alnus-glutinosa#267688
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1266
Location: Central New Jersey
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I cannot speak from experience, so keep that in mind .
I think we can definitely control the succession, it seems to me that is what a food forest is all about. Your alders are early pioneers, in there healing the land, restoring nitrogen to the soil, covering bare earth where prior forest was cleared out. That is great, you do not have to plant them, they are already there for you.

So you start looking for your next stage in the succession. Bigger, longer lived trees, among others. So, which trees do you want? Pecans and walnuts for nuts and possible timber? Some smaller trees that will fill in and start producing sooner would be nice, like hazelnuts and various fruit trees, from mulberry and service berry to apples and pears. And you can plan understory plants as well, ramps and nettles should do well, even with lots of shade. And do not forget to coppice or pollard some of your alders to help feed those goats of yours.

geoff lawton has a video out where he diagrams the whole process of managing the succession, starting with no trees at all. You have a head start with your alders already there.

As for cutting the trees and turning it into goat pasture, you could, but would that really be best use of the area? And if you wanted it cleared, letting the goats go in and browse might be a good first step, rather than using your resources cutting the trees down.

I would first consider what my overall goals are for the design. Am I working on providing substantial portions of my family food supply? Am I looking at market gardening for a main source of income? First step, why am I making this design.

Then, how best to use what I have to fulfill the goals. Is the alder patch the natural place to put the food forest, if I want one?
Let us say yes, it is and I do. So now I need to know what my options to grow in my food forest are for my location. Then, which of the choices do my family like, or which choices does the local market support? Then there are things like water supply, do I want to do Swales to support my trees? Is there a good pond location? Before the new trees start going in, any earthworks should be done.

And what to do with the alders as you start introducing your new trees into your forest? Fodder for goats, for some. Load some hugelbeds with trunks for some others. Keep a bunch interspersed with your other trees to keep providing nitrogen, and you can probably coppice those to keep feeding your goats while they keep nursing your other trees.

Pretty sure you do not have to let it go to Douglas Fir.
 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Thanks, I think you've summed up the considerations pretty well.


To be more clear I don't think there will be goats in the system. But we do have chickens and producing some forage would be nice.


I guess I have to research what could grow in that situation.

Human food, chicken food, firewood, material for the garden are all needed.


Might be a bit too shaded of a spot for apple trees and such.


Maybe I should invest in the Edible Forest Gardens books. There seems to be such an opportunity in those spots.

Whatever I learn in this patch could be applicable to many other places.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Some quick thoughts...
*Alder stands can be managed for saw logs, lots of thinning, as doghair stands can be vulnerable to wind and ice. Markets determine if Alder saw logs are worth anything.
*Red alder (Alnus rubra) which I assume you have, doesn't stump sprout reliably, which makes it a poor coppice plant.
*The wood is great fuel, and also is the native host to oyster mushrooms (and so could support other mushrooms.)
*Wood rots very fast. The bark makes a nice red-brown dye.
*Salal has a nice berry, and the greens have limited value in the floral market as a green (cheap labor required)--salal usually indicates site with good drainage.
*Natural succession in NW usually involves transition to hemlock/cedar/spruce--shade tolerant conifers.... Doug fir requires sun.
*Natural edible understory could include native rubus, huckleberry, salal, nettles, miners lettuce and other spring greens, fiddleheads, mushrooms.
*It is easy to plant more alder patches. You can have a 6" 30 foot tree in 6 years on good soil...I think it is a nice way to transition out of eurasian pasture, as it can tolerate competition with grass and doesn't get hit hard by the deer.
*I wouldn't invest in large fruit under alder... rather use the alder as a woody cover crop, and transition to another crop by clearing the alder in large patches... maybe leave a limbed up standard here or there if you want the log for something later. We have less sun than the tropics for multi-story cropping.
*Alder branch slash piles make nice trellises for trailing vines, and then become nice future planting sites for the next generation of trees.
*My chickens love foraging for bugs in the little alder clump near their coop.

 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Thanks Paul, some good info there.

So you'd clear ithe aldars first if you wanted to plant the next succession of trees? My understanding was that the next generation would start growing in the understory, hidden among the ferns etc.



I've been told that salal is a popular ornamental elsewhere, but over here it just grows everywhere. Berries are not very popular. Plenty of salmonberries, huckleberries, blackberries over here... People don't seem to be into the salal berries. Also over here they don't seem to produce in the shade (plenty of them in the sun)




 
Lenny Johnson
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You could try selectively thinning the alder where you need more sunlight. If some of it does happen to coppice, you could keep that growth for the N-fixing benefits.
 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Gonna summarize some of my online findings in this post:


Using ferns as a source of potassium for potato growing:
http://robertkouriksgardenroots.blogspot.ca/2009/09/bracken-ferns-for-phosphorus.html


What I have in my alder patch is sword fern, but:

http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/fern/polmun/all.html

Western sword fern has particularly high levels of potassium and
nitrogen when it occurs as an understory plant in seral red alder (Alnus
rubra) stands. Calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium levels are higher in
the understory of seral red alder stands than in the understory of
Douglas-fir stands




Also, I found some interesting posts on permies such as:

http://www.permies.com/t/27872/trees/Red-Alder-Alnus-Rubra
http://www.permies.com/t/10609/plants/Alder-nitrogen-fixation-native-tree#218745


So basically you can potentially harvest top soil from an alder patch and keep the patch as alder by doing so. And alder is a good wood for hugelkultur.



So... could an alder stand be a good resource for soil building in a vegetable garden? Looks pretty good to me...


 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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So one of the things I would personally be considering is to cut out a keyhole and meadow into the center of the alder plot. So like - a suntrap. In my experience red alder WILL coppice fairly well. If you go out around this time of year you can see where the little suckers that will develop into new shoots are, they'll be on the bottom 3 or 4 feet of the tree and have only one or three leaves on them. I would shoot the logs up with oysters and pile them just inside the the shaded rim of your now clear suntrap meadow. The salal. Eh, I can take or leave it. Now huckleberry... but they tend to do best in Hemlock and fir rot. Nettles will probably automatically begin to pop up in the clearing, I personally would encourage this. The sword ferns I would personally hack all the greens off of them as I find they make for an amazing chop and drop mulch. Much loved by soil microbes, fungi, bugs, and chickens. They then can be dug out around the root ball fairly easily and moved. I would do so and form them into a semi-circle ring around the outside of your meadow where they will provide infinite chop and drop mulch and resproat to provide good shade for your bucked up oyster logs. These logs once spent after 5 or 6 years can be smashed up and raked into the meadow to further build soil, their buggy remains will be a feast for chickens. I would also personally keep a small contingent of ducks around as oyster mushrooms tend to attract plenty of slugs. The keyhole meadow can be planted with virtually anything. Throw in some fruit trees for a food forest, dump in a bunch of raspberries or blueberries, hell just couple together some raised vegetable beds - the soil should be quite good. Anyhow that's the sort of Idea I'd be entertaining.
 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Thanks Landon, some inspiring ideas... I'll have to take another look and see if this option is a possibility.

I don't have a compass right now to see where south is but Im assuming that the alders are leaning towards the light. There's a bluff (hill) in that direction with some firs growing; so I'd have to see how much sunlight we would be dealing with.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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yeah no problem, you'd be surprised how much light will spill into a clearing too.
 
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